I was going to write about my trip to Italy, but reading about other people’s awesome vacations is boring. So here’s that column: If you’ve never been to Italy, go. If you have, go again.
Which brings me to my column about coming back from Italy, and the security arrangements at Logan International Airport’s Terminal E, which our geniuses in Customs have transformed into Interminable E.
Our flight from Rome arrived at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, within an hour of several other international flights. Thus, about 1,500 people, laden with heavy bags, cranky babies and too little sleep, were simultaneously seeking to clear Customs.
You are first directed into one of two lengthy lines for passport control, depending upon whether you are 1) a U.S. or Canadian citizen or returning visitor, or 2) visiting the United States for the first time.
Into all this airport talk? Bill Randell on building up Worcester Regional
This can mean a lengthy wait, and beginning about two years ago, the lines at Logan grew very long. Officials installed 20 computer kiosks that let travelers scan their passports, have their photos taken, and receive a receipt to expedite their encounter with the human waiting for them at the end of a second lengthy queue.
A July 2014 article in the Boston Globe, written shortly after those kiosks were installed, claimed they reduced the average wait time to 23 minutes.
Perhaps, but last year, amid reports of three-hour waits, politicians, along with business and tourism groups, complained again to the Department of Homeland Security. After all, if you have to add three hours to your Boston visit, you might opt instead for Baltimore, Charleston or Winnipeg.
More kiosks were installed, and they seemed to help. By last August, the Globe reported, the average wait was only about 50 minutes. Well, that’s better than three hours, but still more than twice the 23 minutes of the year before.
Last week’s Sina-cism [ICYMI]: Salt and capitalism, starring Birch Tree Bread
As for us, we exited our aircraft at 7:23 p.m. on the aforementioned Wednesday evening, used the kiosk, were brusquely directed to the second line, told the agent in vivid detail about the Umbrian salami we had purchased in Orvieto, got our receipt stamped, collected our bags, and then …
Well, sometime in the last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection added an additional passport control checkpoint, so we were directed to queue up a third time — in a rapidly expanding line that stretched around the perimeter of the holding area — for the privilege of handing our stamped receipts to one of two (two!) U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
And I had been hoping to put that receipt in my scrapbook!
Having been X-rayed, patted down, and interrogated in Rome, photographed and interrogated by computer in Boston, interrogated a third time by a human in Boston, and then having collected our screened, X-rayed and possibly searched bags, it was obviously vital to have everyone line up again in order to hand the receipt from a purportedly completed transaction to a Customs agent, who didn’t need to say a word, since the sign beside his work station — the one warning weary and annoyed travelers that it is a federal offense to assault a Customs officer — says “Welcome home!” so eloquently.
At this point, it was 8:55 p.m., 92 minutes after we had left the plane. Multiply our wait by the 1,500 travelers present and by whatever figure you estimate was lost in wages or tourism-related business, and you have a rough idea of the economic damage that this superfluous passport “checkpoint” is doing.
Massport blames Customs for being understaffed. The agency blames Massport for scheduling too many flights. I blame both for engaging in an exercise in bureaucracy that would make Kafka proud.
Happily, Customs offers travelers a sign we might never have seen had the line not been as excruciatingly long as it was: “U.S. Customs and Border Protection pledges to treat you with courtesy, dignity and respect,” it proclaims, complete with quotation marks, suggesting that it’s not just a slogan, but something that someone actually said.
We Welcome Your Comments! it adds (love that exclamation!), which can be made at help.cbp.gov or directly to Helen T. Sterling, area port director, at 617-565-6149, or Lawrence R. Byrd, professionalism service manager, at 617-568-1810, ext. 0, or 617-908-5945.
Don’t disappoint them! Call them! And next time, choose Winnipeg!